Design Principles You Need To Consider When Creating in Canva

Design Principles You Need To Consider When Creating in Canva


Recently we ran a half day workshop for the Sunshine Coast’s Museums and Cultural Heritage workers and volunteers on the topic of how to level up your designs in Canva. As always with our large group trainings, there was a huge diversity of skill levels and experience in the room – from those who were already daily Canva uses, to those who had only downloaded it on their phones, or created an account for the first time on their desktops that day.

Our team have been using Canva since 2013, so we have certainly learnt many tricks over the years. First, Canva was something we played with now and then. However it fast became something we began to use on a daily basis, and today, it is a main design tool for our social media specialists who produce everything from cover graphics and highlight covers for our clients, to social media posts, social media ads, reels and more; though sometimes our inhouse graphic designers do also produce concepts in Illustrator or Photoshop, and for clients who need it, transfer these to Canva.

Canva is such an easy interface and system to use, that today we love to share our knowledge with others and encourage them to use us to create their brand, brand style guide, or even their templates in Canva, but to then provide training to build their design skills so they can continue to create graphics in Canva as they need them. It’s a good idea to create brand templates, or have someone create these for you professionally, so you can quickly create designs thereafter which are on brand and consistent.

In the Level Up Your Canva Skills/Design Principles session we ran with Council (which we will be rolling out publicly very soon as it was such a hit – stay tuned) we ran through:

  • How to produce creative that will make you look like a pro with your marketing! 
  • Why you need good creative
  • The design process
  • Creating a design brief
  • The importance of a brand kit & setting yours up on Canva
  • An orientation around the core menu of Canva (where to find stuff)
  • Basic design principles to bare in mind when creating stuff in Canva
  • How to find and select good images for your designs
  • Guidelines for copy

We thought a blog post explaining some of these concepts and what we mean by design principles might be useful to many of you out there, who may not be able to attend our workshop, but who are looking for tricks and tips to level up your Canva design (or design in general) now.

Why is good design so important in the first place?

There are many reasons why these days knocking something up in Microsoft Publisher or Corel Draw just won’t ‘cut the mustard’. The short answer to this question is that the market has matured. People’s design knowledge, skills and access to tools like Canva is generally better, so people are used to, and expect better design.

If your creative (another word for design assets) is poor, it will be hard to get people to take notice or become interested in what you have to offer. When it comes to digital assets, the first place people look when they see a post in their feed is the ‘assets’ also known as the creative. 

Today, our brains can process images faster than ever. It takes on average 400-500 milliseconds (1 millisecond = 0.001 seconds) for us to respond to visual stimuli. That’s super quick!

So even if people catch just a glimpse of your design, they will be able to interpret it, understand it, and make an impression of it. Now we don’t want their first impressions being poor do we?

Today, Everyone is a Designer!

These days it’s common for someone who does administration or some form of marketing for their organisation to also be tasked with graphic design. Previously, studying to become a Graphic Designer via a university program as many of our team have done could take four years, while a graphic design course or UX design bootcamp these days can range between a few weeks to a few months. In our experience, many people who use Canva have no experience in graphic design whatsoever, and whilst Canva makes it easy with their handy templates, and suite of click and drop tools, we do see some ‘interesting’ client supplied graphics and practices and can spot an unchanged Canva template a mile away!

Now whether you use a professional graphic designer like us, or design your own you will first need a good design brief.

This includes considering things such as:

  • What is my objective for this design?
  • Who is the intended audience for this post? What are their demographics? Interests?
  • What format am I designing for – Social media post? Facebook Ads? Facebook Cover? Instagram post? Story? Other?
  • What creative (photos/wording) will I use? How will I source this? Within Canva? Upload my own image? 
  • How does this design work in with the rest of my brand assets/creative? I.e. should this be directly ‘on brand’ or is it a ‘campaign’ which can be a little different?

Design Principles To Bare in Mind

So what are the design principles you need to be mindful of when creating a design in Canva (or anywhere else for that matter) even if you are not a designer? The main principles of design are fundamental guidelines that help artists, designers, and creators create visually appealing and effective compositions. These principles are used in various design disciplines, including graphic design, web design, interior design, fashion design, and more. The main principles of design include:

  • Space: Space, also known as white space is the empty or unmarked space in a design. It provides breathing room for the other elements and can help enhance clarity and readability. It is important to utilise open space to bring attention to the elements that actually matter. Some top tips on space:
    • Think about full page images
    • Think about using statistics or key messages as a call out to break up content
    • Give big blocks of text
      breathing space
    • Padding is important! 
  • Balance: Balance refers to the distribution of visual weight in a design. It can be achieved through symmetry (formal balance) or asymmetry (informal balance). Balance ensures that the elements in a design feel stable and harmonious. Every element you place on a page has a weight which needs to be balanced. The weight can come from color, size, or texture.  Balance is also achieved by playing with alignment (left, centre, right).
Examples of Balance on a Page
  • Emphasis – Emphasis is used to draw the viewer’s attention to a specific focal point or area within a design. This can be achieved through the use of color, contrast, size, or positioning. If you refer to our logo in the top left of our website, you’ll note we have used the brighter colour of orange sparingly, but as a way to draw the eye to the logo.
  • Contrast: Contrast involves juxtaposing elements with different characteristics to create visual interest and emphasis. This can include contrasting colors, shapes, sizes, textures, or values (lightness/darkness). We recently prepared a great new logo for a client who is opening a cafe in Reykjavik, Iceland. Using the darked colour of navy in his colour palette, combined with a coral/pink and teal, we have some good contrast going on which gives him options for displaying his brand in different ways in different situations which will stand out.
  • Scale & Proportion – Proportion refers to the size relationships between elements in a design, while scale deals with the relative size of an element compared to its surroundings. Proper proportion and scale help maintain visual harmony. Consider the proportion of items in your design subject to what you are trying to communicate.

    A good way to illustrate how scale and proportion is important is when you see different faces on a Meet the Team page that haven’t been resized to be similar shapes and thus look out of proportion. You end up with a page of people who have everything from ‘pea heads’ to ‘water melon heads’ and the overall design of the page comes down a notch. Take the time to size things correctly, and ensure scale and proportion and your designs will go up a level in professionalism.
It’s always a good idea to resize your team photos so they are all the same proportion if sharing them on one page.
  • Hieraracy – Hierarchy establishes a clear order of importance within a design. It helps viewers understand which elements are the most critical and guides their visual journey through the composition. Hierarchy guides the reader on where to look first. Organise the information in the order of which the audience needs to know first, second third. Consider where you will place items such as:
    • Headline/Title (biggest most prominent element)
    • Subheading (lesser emphasis, but still important) 
    • Body Copy
    • Call to action (emphasise what you want audience to do next i.e. call, book, go to website etc.)

Summary of Design Principles for Designing in Canva

There are lots more design principles to share, but those above are some fairly important ones, which once you put into practice will definitely see your designs go up a notch from amateur towards the professional end of things.

Design principles are not rigid rules. They are guidelines that can be adapted to suit the goals of a project. Successful design often involves a careful balance of these principles to create visually appealing and effective results.

Overtime if you are disciplined in applying design principles, you will develop a ‘design eye’. You’ll also understand how to best customise them to suit your brand, using these design principles. We hope this post has been helpful, and if you’d like to hear when we are running Canva and other workshops, be sure to join our mailing list.